Juan Soto out-homered the Cleveland Guardians’ José Ramírez in the first round of the 2022 MLB HR Derby, advanced to a second round matchup with legendary slugger Albert Pujols, and knocked him out too, setting up a final round matchup against the Seattle Mariners’ 21-year-old Julio Rodríguez, nicknamed “J-Rod”.
Soto lost in the second round in 2021, to eventual Derby champion Pete Alonso, after he beat Shohei Ohtani in the first round, but this year he won it all, becoming the second Nationals’ player to win the Derby, after Bryce Harper did it when the Midsummer Classic was held in the nation’s capital in 2018.
When he spoke to reporters before tonight’s Derby, most of the questions were about the rumors he turned down a 15-year/$440M extension offer, but Soto said he wouldn’t let the talk, and subsequent reports the Nationals feel they have to at least consider entertaining offers for him now, distract him from the task at hand.
THREE ROUNDS— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 19, 2022
JUAN. SOTO.@JuanSoto25_ // #NATITUDE pic.twitter.com/4YUJvDAfmB
“At the end of the day,” Soto said, as quoted by Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes, “I just try to forget about everything outside for three hours and try to be the 12 years old I’ve been doing this since, playing baseball as hard as I can.”
He was able to focus enough to win the HR Derby tonight.
“It feels amazing. it feels tiring first of all,” Soto joked with ESPN’s Buster Olney on the field after his win. He also took a moment to shout out the other finalist.
“Great young kid,” the 23-year-old Soto he said of the 21-year-old Rodríguez, “a lot of power, I know he was really tired after the first and second rounds.”
Asked about going up against Pujols, Soto said it was a thrill to “face one of the legends of the Dominican Republic.”
As for his future and what he wants to see happen the next few weeks?
“Right now I’m not even thinking about it, I’m a champion,” Soto said.